Some of my earliest memories were formed on a trip to France with my parents at the age of 4. On our way to Paris, I remember landing in New York City and convincing myself that someday I would live there… and I did. I remember walking through a poppy field with my Mother and how her black hair looked like the inside of a poppy… and poppies are still my favorite flower. I remember my first warm, flaky and gooey pain au chocolate… and no other has ever been the same. These weren’t especially unique experiences, but the trip itself makes them special, memorable, and significant. I think this is because children are uniquely positioned to see the world differently, be open to its differences, and make the most of travel. For these same reasons, I am exposing my children to foreign travel in the hope that they too create life-long memories and foreign experiences – just like I did.
From my last post, you may remember that I am currently spending the Dallas-Summer / Southern hemisphere-Winter with my husband and two small boys in Santiago, Chile. Since being here, we have traveled to three countries, taken 6 flights, explored cities, beaches, deserts, wine valleys, and snowy mountains. My children have felt the cold Pacific Ocean on their toes, eaten some of the best raw seafood in the world, felt two earthquakes, observed tango dancing on the street, climbed a sand dune in one of the largest deserts in the world, swam in a volcanic hot spring and seen inspiring art of many different styles and cultures. It wasn’t easy getting here and the pace of travel can be exhausting, but in six short weeks I have noticed amazing changes in my children and in myself.
My kids are absorbing the food, smells, language and the culture of Chile like sponges and adapting to the change in their environment extremely fast. FJ (18 months) waves and says “hola” to every person on the street as he passes them on his scooter. When they respond “muy guapo!” he says “gracias” (in baby talk). Walker (4 years old) is eating things like ceviche, grilled octopus and fresh chorizo and hasn’t asked for Chick-fil-A once. He has made friends at the playground, memorized the flags of everywhere we’ve been, and is enthusiastic to see everything. They both play with children at the playground that do not speak English and it doesn’t matter. It has been amazing to see my children effortlessly adapt to new things that would be so hard for adults to take on.
And believe me, it is hard to adapt as an adult. For starters, I don’t speak Spanish – let alone the choppy Chilean dialect – and I’ll frequently need to ask “que?” 10 times in a single conversation. I’m trying, but it is really hard. On top of this, I have to drive a manual car uphill in traffic because automatics are uncommon here, communicate with a gas company when we thought there was a leak in the house (there wasn’t, phew), and even navigate the grocery store! Side note: You would think that meat cuts would be universal…think again! Most are completely unrecognizable! With all of this, it is easy to want to go home sometimes. But at the same time, I’ve learned a lesson from my children: that all of us can adapt, be patient, and enjoy a new experience.
To make the most of being in a new environment we try to incorporate what is around us into our conversations and games. We play “I spy” as we explore different cities, we draw the places we have seen (this morning Walker drew the “Amacama” desert), and we have discussions about what we’ve seen that day. We talk about how this place is different from home, why it is special, and if they like it. These discussions can go on and on as their little minds turn.
They also get excited by the things that excite me. For example, I love modern art, and while exploring the abstract paintings at the MALBA in Buenos Aries, Walker tried to guess what the pictures were of. He said everything from rain drops to llama footprints. It was really sweet to share that experience with him and for him to take away an elementary fascination of art that might affect him later in life.
I don’t know what each of my sons will retain from this experience in 20 years, but I know that these experiences will mold them into the interesting adults that they will become. I can already see that their minds have been stretched and broadened from this experience.
So whether you go for a week or a month, considering traveling abroad with your young children. To me the journey has been priceless.